HP TouchPad aims to compete with iPad and Android tablets (July 7th, 2011)
Product Manufacturer: HP
Price: $499 as tested (16GB)
- Unique design
- Decent performance
- Intuitive interface
- Excellent display
- Loud speakers
- Thick and heavy
- Glossy finish attracts fingerprints
- Graphics sometimes lag
- Home button too small
HP has made another attempt to establish itself in the tablet arena, transitioning webOS beyond smartphones in an attempt to compete with Android, iOS and BlackBerry Tablet OS. Although HP suggests its TouchPad does not aim to displace the iPad, the company followed Apple's tablet strategy by choosing a 9.7-inch display with 1024x768 resolution and a 4:3 aspect ratio. In our full review, we take a closer look at HP's latest jump into the tablet market.
The TouchPad maintains the same gloss-black finish and contoured design as the Pre smartphone lineup, giving HP's tablet a distinctive appearance among a number of iPad look-alikes. Although we found the aesthetics to be attractive after opening the box, the gloss finish quickly became completely marred with fingerprints. The smooth contoured backside also seemed unnervingly slick, compared to grippy metal housings or textured plastic.
After handling the TouchPad for an extended period of time, we did not perceive the same level of build quality as the iPad and many Android tablets. The plastic housing was easy to flex, sometimes causing a creaking noise. The buttons are also loosely fitted, leading to an audible rattling sound when the tablet is moved around.
While some tablets appear to choose plastic over metal in an attempt to cut down on weight, the TouchPad is nonetheless a hefty device. At 740 grams, the tablet carries more weight than the first-generation iPad, iPad 2, Galaxy Tab 10.1, and even the Xoom. The design is also relatively thick, measuring 13.7mm between the glass facade and the back panel.
Placement of the power button and volume rocker seemed logical. Our only complaint regarding the input options involves the home button, a small oval that seems inadequately tiny for the most-used hardware button.
We were surprised to see the speaker ports both located along the left edge, though the placement still produces strong sound when the bottom edge is pressed against clothing or other surfaces. We were generally impressed with the loudness of the small drivers.
Display and camera
Unlike many Android tablets with widescreen displays that lend themselves to landscape orientation, HP chose to utilize a 4:3 aspect ratio. Like the iPad, the TouchPad's display feels comfortable to use in portrait or landscape orientation. Both devices also share an IPS panel, enabling users to view the display from extremely wide angles.
We did not encounter any problems with the TouchPad's display. The panel appeared to present graphics with visual quality similar to that of other IPS panels, offering decent brightness, color representation, and contrast ratios.
The TouchPad lacks a rear-facing camera, though users can take advantage of a 1.3-megapixel front-facing sensor for video calls. We do not miss the rear-facing camera, as tablets are generally too large to easily wield in the same way as a smartphone or standalone camera.
Performance and battery
HP chose to integrate a dual-core 1.2GHz processor produced by Qualcomm. The chipset was suitable for most tasks, however we experienced lag during certain intensive operations. Websites loaded quickly in the browser, but scrolling was not as fluid as we have experienced with high-end Android tablets or the iPad.
The company claims users can achieve eight hours of web browsing over Wi-Fi before needing a recharge. Our tests came close to the manufacturer claims, placing the TouchPad's battery duration just behind the iPad and slightly longer than some 10-inch Android tablets.
HP is not a newcomer to the tablet market, though the company's previous devices were limited to Windows. The TouchPad represents the company's first tablet to utilize an adaptation of a smartphone OS, following the same route that Apple and Google took with iOS and Android, respectively. The company has tweaked webOS for the 9.7-inch display and tablet experience.
WebOS 3.0 offers a number of unique features that distinguish the OS from iOS or Android 3.0. We like the home screen, which ditches small app icons in favor of a multitasking interface that presents active apps as large "cards." The cards combine associated content, such as browser windows or e-mails. The items are presented as misaligned stacks, giving users a preview of each item for easy navigation.
The interface is mostly intuitive, though new users may take some time to discover the gesture for closing an active card. To kill activities, users must press a card and swipe upward to close each task. We would have liked alternative options, such as a close button, but the swipe method is easy enough after familiarization.
Android users will welcome the notification system, which posts alerts on the top menu bar. WebOS provides a deeper level of complexity, however, enabling users to view lists of e-mails or control basic functions such as music playback.
The top menu also provides quick access to basic settings controls, such as screen brightness, Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth, airplane mode, rotation lock and sound muting. The bottom menu can be customized with five different shortcuts to frequently-used functions.
We also liked HP's tablet-optimized pane system, which is used in several core apps such as the e-mail client. When users open the e-mail utility, the interface presents side-by-side panes for accounts, the inbox, and message previews. Dedicated buttons on the bottom of each pane enable users to slide each pane closed to expand the message view.
From a hardware standpoint, the TouchPad does not provide any spectacular features to set it above the rest of the tablet crowd. The iPad 2 and some Android-based devices, such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1, arguably offer a higher level of performance, particularly when handling graphics. The hardware is not terrible, but it is slightly behind several competitors that have been available for a number of months.
We were impressed with webOS when it was first introduced by Palm, and HP has succeeded in continuing to develop the platform into a proper OS for tablets. The software is another aspect that is not terrible, but it could use further optimizations and improvements. WebOS 3.0 does not feel as refined as current iOS builds on the iPad, or Android 3.0 on devices such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola Xoom.
Considering the TouchPad's minor shortcomings, potential customers are likely to gravitate to the price tag to make a purchasing decision. HP was able to match common tablet pricing, led by the iPad, with a 16GB Wi-Fi model selling for $499 and a 32GB Wi-Fi edition available for $599.
The TouchPad may not be the most attractive option in the current market, but we are curious to see how webOS develops in the future. HP suggests the platform will eventually differentiate itself as an ecosystem that seamlessly connects tablets, smartphones, printers, and even computers that boot webOS. In the meantime, however, the platform still provides a limited level of interconnectedness that can also be achieved via Android or iOS.